NHL.com - In spite of a goaltender's importance, they are rarely included in the conversation when trying to determine the best player in the NHL.
Elite point-producers have such a significant impact on their teams and are generally the only category of player considered in that debate.
But that discourse has changed this season, and Carey Price is the reason.
The Montreal Canadiens goaltender has been the most dominant player in the NHL this season, with several of his colleagues and opposing coaches openly saying as much because the evidence is too obvious to ignore.
A recent poll of 20 NHL coaches, 10 from each conference, conducted by TSN unanimously chose Price when asked who should win the Hart Trophy as the NHL most valuable player.
But unlike a dominant scorer or a top-flight defenseman, the Canadiens have the unique advantage of having the best player in the world on the ice for them 60 minutes a game.
That is the biggest reason the Canadiens will the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1993, ending the longest championship drought in the history of the League's oldest and most storied franchise.
Price is the latest in a long line of Canadiens goaltenders capable of carrying them to greatness in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, following in the most recent footsteps of Patrick Roy. Roy played on Montreal teams somewhat similar to this season's version in 1986 and 1993, teams that did not enter the playoffs considered top contenders. But Roy carried them to the Stanley Cup, and there is no reason to believe Price can't do the same.
Price's numbers this season were historic, a level of statistical dominance over his peers that even Roy never achieved. Much like Roy, Price has the ability to intimidate a playoff opponent by creating the belief that beating him four times over a seven-game series may be next to impossible.
Montreal's Stanley Cup run this spring will not solely rest on Price's shoulders.
The utter dominance of Price has cast a long shadow over the Canadiens' other assets.
The defense is led by P.K. Subban, a player with a solid history of raising his game at this time of year and one who is given greater liberty by coach Michel Therrien to display his talents in the playoffs.
Subban, Andrei Markov, Jeff Petry, Tom Gilbert and Nathan Beaulieu are mobile defensemen who can move the puck extremely quickly, feeding Montreal's forwards for quick-strike opportunities and moving the play from their end to the offensive zone in the blink of an eye.
The Canadiens might not have the best defense in the NHL, but they are among the most mobile group in the League and will prove to be a challenge to any playoff opponent.
Montreal has a versatile group of forwards with a number of young candidates to emerge into stars. Alex Galchenyuk (21 years old), Brendan Gallagher (22), Lars Eller (25) and leading scorer Max Pacioretty (26) each got his first taste of a long playoff run last season when the Canadiens reached the Eastern Conference Final, and they will benefit from that experience this season.
Veteran center Tomas Plekanec is the leader of the group up front, and though he has been tagged with a reputation for sagging offensively in the playoffs, he is a tremendous defensive weapon for Therrien who has shown an ability to neutralize opposing top forwards in past playoffs.
The Canadiens have demonstrated all season that their skaters don't need to be spectacular for them to win games because of the presence of Price. But that group in front of him is poised to be much better in the playoffs, making the Canadiens a more formidable team and, ultimately, this season's Stanley Cup champion.
Author: Arpon Basu | Managing Editor LNH.com
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